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Q&A: Brady Campaign leader on the new face of gun control

Kurtis Lee, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

Kris Brown has never seen the energy and support behind gun control reach this level.

Students are staging walkouts. Businesses are limiting gun sales. And politicians are voicing support for legislation that would have seemed unimaginable a month ago.

Brown, co-president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said that in the weeks since the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., the gun control advocacy organization has swelled with support. Since the Feb. 14 shooting, she said, 18 new chapters have emerged nationwide, joining the more than 100 that already existed. The Brady Campaign is helping to organize "March for Our Lives" rallies across the country on March 24 that will call for more gun control laws.

Brown, 49, spoke with the Los Angeles Times about the student uprising, the National Rifle Association and gun control legislation that could pass in the weeks ahead. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: Why are you more optimistic now?

A: The debate that's going on right now is different from what we've seen before, and the momentum is different. After Sandy Hook (the 2012 elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn.), I think the nation was appalled. Congress attempted to pass legislation that did not go anywhere. I think that many Americans felt that after the slaughter of innocent children in a school, the idea that Congress didn't do anything at all about it made them feel very defeated about the prospect for meaningful change in this country.

The high school kids -- many of whom were students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas -- who are speaking out and continuing to share their thoughts and voices feel very much that this country has let them down. That's what we're hearing over and over again. And the demands for change that they're making aren't just for small fixes to the system. They want it all. And I think that's really inspiring people to rethink why the rules are set up this way. Why is it that they're set up and designed to protect gun manufacturers with no real internalization of the cost of human lives?

I think they've really sparked something, and we're seeing that even in the political commentary. We have people like Lindsey Graham, even Ted Cruz on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," talking about measures related to more regulations of guns. That is unique and new.

Q: So the students have made a difference?

A: I really do think they sparked something that is the momentum toward a real change. I think they're the catalyst for the change. I think when you have people who have no interest except their own self-preservation and safety, who can speak with an authentic and both youthful and adult-like voice, that's powerful.

Being victim survivors themselves, they have the ability to ask the really tough questions. Why have you, Marco Rubio, taken money from the NRA? Why aren't you supporting these policies that we as voters want you to support? I think that has sparked a whole conversation in households all across the country. Yes, why is it this way? Let's change this and fix it.

Q: What does the NRA mean to you?

A: I see an organization that started many years ago with a noble purpose, which is to represent owners of guns and provide information about proper stewardship of guns. To provide opportunities for sharpshooting, going to ranges and things like that -- that's how the NRA started.

I now see an organization that has strayed dramatically away from actually representing the gun owners that they were formed to represent and really taking the interests of manufacturers to heart.

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The best example I have of that is the latest (Quinnipiac) poll around background checks that says 97 percent -- 97 percent! -- of all Americans believe that we must strengthen and protect our background check system. The NRA has fought tooth and nail actually against every proposal that would do that, and does even now. So I think it has gone way far astray from the purpose that it was set up for.

Q: What do you say to gun control critics?

A: We have over 300 million guns in this country. It's not about whether or not we need additional laws. We actually need reasonable laws and protections in place that actually work, and then we need to able to enforce them. So it's both sides of the equation.

Q: Trump mentioned taking guns away.

A: My candid thought is that if President Obama had said something like that, he might have been subject to impeachment hearings right away. I think it's an interesting standard. We at Brady actually have been strong proponents of extreme-risk laws, and we support due process being a part of that equation. Of course, if law enforcement comes into anyone's home and believes they're truly an imminent risk to themselves or others, they can always have an expedited process in that case to remove guns.

Q: Some say urban cases get less notice.

A: I hear that and I actually agree with that. There are over 96 people a day who die from gun violence in this country. Mass shootings constitute 1 percent to 2 percent of all gun violence. We want an opportunity here to actually talk as a gun violence organization about all of the things that we think must be done to solve the problem of gun violence, and that is in every community.

For many communities, the most dangerous part of the day is not at school. That's the safest part of the day. The most dangerous part of the day is walking to and from school. So Brady has an entire campaign aimed at disrupting the supply of guns into urban communities across the U.S., and we're working with the Urban League to implement that campaign.

Q: Finish the sentence: Guns in America ...

A: ... have a very important role in American life, and it's in all Americans' interest to actually ensure that we live in a society where all of us can live our daily lives without the fear of being shot.

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